The Internet is Not the Problem

“Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water.” -Luke 8:24

Like many other clergy in the Orthodox Church in America, I’m attending the 16th All-American Council. Also like many other clergy, I attended the first plenary session (or was it an episode of Oprah?) Monday evening. During the question and answer period that followed Metropolitan Jonah’s address and the responses from some members of the Holy Synod, the Internet came in for some rather negative criticism. (See AFR for the audio; time references below are for that version).

Bishop Benjamin (fairly) derided partisanship on the web:

I think one of the great challenges us to in this age is the Internet. And it is no secret that there are often dueling websites, this site for the metropolitan, this site is against the metropolitan. And it has made our life a living hell. And I would like to say to those who run those websites: just stop it, grow up, and get over yourselves. (applause) The Internet is a great tool, and we need to use it for good, to build up the body of Christ, not to destroy it or to wound its members. (1:20:45ff)

Metropolitan Jonah, in the final response of the Holy Synod to questioners, went further:

If there’s no market, if people aren’t interested in reading it, they’re not going to publish it. Right? You’ve gotta turn off the Internet. It’s fine for email, but I was quite surprised, for example, to find my own personal emails read to me, and even SMS texts. Isn’t this immoral, unethical, and just downright sinful? Brothers and sisters, our first task, we really have to think about how we are acting in regards to one another. As Vladika said, the children, what are they reading? No wonder. So, just remember, if there’s no market, they’re not going to publish. And if they do publish, who cares? Because if we don’t read it and if we don’t allow our minds to be polluted by this kind of verbal pornography. (2:25:58ff)

Time does not allow an extend response, so two brief thoughts:

Uninformed or malicious partisanship is bad for the Church. But what are we to do about the situation of the past year, where the most partisan of the websites (on both sides) were operated with the spiritual and material support of the highest levels of leadership in the Church?

Silence gives cover to the Evil One. In the first few months of this year, the faithful received leaked news from a questionable site, followed by information at OCANews, a video of the Metropolitan speaking from the ambo of his cathedral in DC, and, finally, the minutes of the most recent Holy Synod meeting. Not too long after this, OCATruth was established, and Monomakhos took up arms, anonymous mercenaries in service to then-unknown masters. The barrage of information was contradictory, inflammatory, and disconcerting, and spread all manner of spiritual infection.

In the face of this, the Holy Synod was silent. The Metropolitan Council didn’t say much more, in favor of allowing OCANews to function as its de facto press organization.

All of which leads me to recall the experience of Jesus in the boat with his disciples in Luke 8:22-25:

Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. But He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!”

Christ did not allow the storm to rage, keeping silent or murmuring soothing platitudes that “everything will be alright.” Rather, his first act was to stop the waves and the storm. He didn’t teach until after the disciples had no care about the tumult.

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